Gold medals are not normally awarded at Pops concerts, but if they were judges would be hard-pressed to determine who would win them based on the Las Vegas Philharmonic’s program on Saturday.
First consideration might go to Robert Bernhardt, the guest conductor, one of nine guests this season being considered as a potential music director. Bernhardt announced the selections and proved himself to be engaging, witty and spontaneous.
More important, he is a first-rate conductor with seemingly effortless control of the orchestra. His extensive experience includes the Rochester Philharmonic, the Chattanooga Symphony and Opera, and the Louisville Orchestra, among others.
Then there’s the orchestra itself, which continues to amaze with its ability to perform almost flawlessly with minimal rehearsal time, especially for the Pops Concert series.
I can’t leave out guest artist Travis Cloer, now starring in "Jersey Boys" at the Palazzo, whose amazing voice shone brightly in "Mary Did You Know?" or similarly talented Niki Scolera who teamed with Cloer later in the program for a version of "The Prayer."
Though the song has become ubiquitous, their duet, in an arrangement by trombonist Nathan Tanouye, was truly memorable. Tanouye would be another medal finalist since, in addition to being the Philharmonic’s principal trombonist, he contributed at least three other excellent arrangements to the program.
He also played with the Dave Loeb Jazz Quartet, four music faculty members from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas who offered Claude Thornhill’s haunting "Snowfall" backed by the full orchestra.
Also in the running for medals would be Jocelyn Jensen’s Las Vegas Master Singers who, with the orchestra, offered a splendid performance of Randol Bass’s "Gloria."
And not to be overlooked were the Advanced Choir from Grant Sawyer Middle School singing "The Little Drummer Boy" followed – in an example of programming overkill – by the Foothill High School Drum Line. We get the connection (if we stretch for it) but, while they played precisely and looked sharp, it simply seemed out of keeping with the remainder of the evening.
What is a Pops concert without something by John Williams? The first half ended with two selections from "Home Alone" and "Home Alone II," the latter being "Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas," always a crowd pleaser.
Shortly after intermission the spotlight landed on the Goodmans, Mayor Carolyn and former Mayor Oscar, who gave a favorable reading of Clement Clark Moore’s "The Night Before Christmas," accompanied by an orchestral background by Randol Bass. Their honors certainly appeared to be enjoying themselves and they carried the audience along with them.
But wasn’t something missing? Ah yes; before exiting stage right, Oscar reached under the table and brought out a martini. Let the holidays begin!
Despite the eclectic programming and the high quality level of all the guests, this was, after all, an evening for the orchestra to shine, and shine they did. There was a "Chanukah Suite" by Jeff Tyzik, a section of Bizet’s "L’Arlesienne Suite," the Russian Dance from Tchaikovsky’s "The Nutcracker," and Leroy Anderson’s "Sleigh Ride," mostly music we know well but can’t hear too often.
As the program drew to a close all featured soloists and guests joined in a medley of familiar holiday tunes arranged, once again, by Randol Bass. But wait! What have we left out? The season wouldn’t be properly launched without the whole audience joining in Irving Berlin’s immortal "White Christmas."
Who should take the gold? Everyone who performed and brought the near capacity audience into the spirit of the holidays.REVIEW
WHAT: Las Vegas Philharmonic’s "A Very Vegas Christmas"
WHERE: Reynolds Hall, The Smith Center for the Performing Arts